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Introduction to Safe Spaces Policy Discussion

M – AWOL is a feminist group that meets monthly in Next To Nowhere social centre, which is a collectively-run, non-hierarchical activist space. AWOL stands for Angry Women of Liverpool, because sexism gives women many reasons to be angry, but one that particularly brought the group together was the common and frustrating experience of encountering sexism within activist organisations that ostensibly aim to create a fairer society and be anti-oppression..

E- There have been several prominent cases of sexism & sexual harassment/abuse in leftwing and other political organisations in the media recently, with SWP’s protection of a perpetrator reflected in the Lib Dems’ cover-ups, and the Glasgow University Union protecting members who heckled women with sexual insults in a debating competition.
We can pick and choose examples from across the political spectrum, but it’s important to remember that sexism is not limited to those particular organisations – it’s endemic across the left, because its endemic in society.
One positive thing to take away from the recent scandals, though – the evidence is that it’s not that these things are happening more than they used to – it’s that more survivors are speaking out and gathering support to oppose it.

M – When survivors speak out about abusive behaviour by other activists and seek support from their group, too often the response is disbelief and denial. Ranks close around the perpetrator, because it’s hard to comprehend that a good friend or comrade might be capable of doing such harm. Insistence on incontrovertible proof overrides taking any kind of constructive action. Survivors are conflicted because the group and its aims are important to them, but may be led to feel that their legitimate request for support and accountability will divide and undermine it. They may be isolated and ostracised. When women in leftist groups try to challenge or even just discuss sexism, they are often told that to do so is to distract from class struggle. Feminism is dismissed as “identity politics” and sexism will be magically solved by the revolution or can be dealt with after that’s been achieved.

E- AWOL ran 2 successful sessions in the last year on sexism in activism, aimed at raising and discussing these issues with members of a wide range of activist groups across the city. The first session focussed on cultures of sexism, and how we can recognise and expose them. The second looked into how we can ensure our groups have the resources, policies and processes to challenge sexism and other oppressive behaviours.

M – Safer spaces policies and procedures are a proactive approach to preventing and dealing with oppressive or abusive behaviour within a group. A safer spaces policy is a collective agreement on what kinds of behaviour are unacceptable, and that anyone raising problems will be listened to. It’s essential that the policy is backed up by collectively agreed procedures for holding individuals accountable for abusive behaviour. A safer spaces approach is not about scapegoating, blame or punishment but about restoring power to the survivor and asking the perpetrator to take responsibility for their behaviour and understand what was wrong with it.

E- I’ve been involved in establishing safer spaces policies and processes at Next To Nowhere, the AF & elsewhere. Safer spaces not just about sexism, but challenging all oppressive behaviours and creating a safer space for everybody. It can be difficult to even start that conversation, because the first response to the idea that such a policy is needed is defensiveness, and showing evidence of a culture of oppressive behaviour can prompt a group to start defending or accusing individuals and demanding evidence, which completely misses the point. Establishing an organisational culture that can deal effectively with oppressive behaviours within its ranks is always a good thing – it’s good for our activism, good for our internal cohesion and trust within our groups, good for social justice in society. The more that people feel comfortable, safe and included within our organisations, the stronger and more effective we become.

Safe Spaces; discussion at Liverpool International Women’s Day 1

Next to Nowhere Safer Spaces Policy

The Policy in Brief

This policy applies to our meeting spaces, social spaces and online spaces.

If you feel unsafe in one of our spaces due to somebody else’s behaviour, you should contact a Safer Spaces volunteer on . The Safer Spaces team will initiate a process to deal with the behaviour.

If you wish, your complaint will be kept confidential and your identity secret.

If you have been subjected to violence, sexual assault or sexual harassment, the perpetrator will be asked not to use the space while the process is ongoing. The process will be survivor-led, you will be able to choose a mediator and you will not be expected to see or speak with your attacker if you do not wish to do so.

For complaints that do not involve violence, we encourage both/all parties to engage with our Conflict Resolution procedure, and will provide mediation if required. See our Conflict Resolution and Survivor-led procedures for details of how these processes work.

We define the following as abusive behaviours which are not tolerated in this space:

Physical abuse

1. Violence and threat of violence (unless in self defence)

2. Use of force and threat of force (unless minimal to protect users of the space and the space itself)

3. Rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment

Verbal abuse

4. Personal insult (insults or aggression towards an individual)

5. Oppressive language (insults or generalisations about a group of people)

7. Verbal Harassment, sexual or otherwise (repeated uninvited personal comments or requests)

8. Verbal abuse in writing (all of the above in written form)

See ‘The Policy in Detail’ (page 2) for a full description of what we mean, and what we do not mean, by each of these behaviours.

See ‘Applying the Safer Spaces Policy’ (page 4) for details of the places and people this policy applies to, and how to enact it.

See ‘Background to the Policy’ (page 5) for more information about Safer Spaces and the reasons why we have this policy.

The Policy in Detail

This section outlines what we mean, and what we don’t mean, by each of the behaviours defined as abusive.

Physical abuse

1. Violence and threat of violence: A deliberate action that is likely to cause somebody physical pain, or the threat of such action, made verbally or implied physically.
This does not mean: Acting in self-defence or in defence of others, as a last resort, in response to a clear and direct physical threat.

2. Use of force and threat of force: Preventing a person from leaving a situation or forcing them into one, either by physically restraining them, blocking their way, refusing to stop following them or refusing to move away from them when asked. Threat to carry out any of these actions.
This does not mean: Preventing somebody from doing violence to themselves or others, or preventing somebody from damaging a space being used collectively, using minimal necessary force.

3. Rape/Sexual assault/Sexual harrassment: non-consenting sex or sexual touching, as well as acting in a sexual way towards somebody, invading their personal space or making sexually suggestive moves or gestures to them without their explicit consent.
This does not mean: Telling somebody that you find them attractive or initiating a flirtation, provided that lack of enthusiastic reciprocation is taken as an unequivocal “NO” with immediate effect, and all attempts at flirtation cease.

Verbal abuse

4. Personal insult: This means insulting terms specifically applied to individuals, or criticism made abusive by being shouted or expressed aggressively, with the outcome of causing hurt, intimidation or humiliation. This applies regardless of whether the outcome was intentional. It is not the intentions of the person who made the remark or the offence felt by the person being insulted that is being addressed here, though these issues will be relevant to any resolution or disassociation process that follows. The behaviour is problematic because it is a means of forcing a point through the use of intimidation rather than reason, and this works to silence dissent and stifle constructive and reasonable discussion.
This does not mean: A ban on insults, compliments or personal remarks in conversation amongst friends who know and respect one another’s limits. However, when engaging in such banter, we should always be aware of our context – where we are, who else is around us and how what we’re saying affects the general atmosphere of the space. It is not enough to assume that everybody within earshot knows our intentions, or even to state that we don’t mean anything by our use of insulting terms, or that they are being used ironically. The trust that is being asked by somebody who uses insulting or aggressive language in jest has to be earned and maintained, and is not automatically due to anybody with good intentions.

5. Oppressive language: This is language used in general conversation, not necessarily in connection with a specific person, that insults, expresses prejudices or reinforces preconceptions about a group of people that are marginalised, disadvantaged or oppressed by mainstream society. This includes (but is not limited to) any racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language. The reason for this is not “political correctness” or fear of criticising people’s values. The real problem with such language is that it normalises prejudices and recreates the very hierarchies that we aim to oppose, as well as creating a space that is unwelcoming to anybody outside of a narrow demographic.
This does not mean: Compiling lists of unacceptable words and phrases in order to catch out the unwary – we don’t need to ban words, we do need to meet challenges to our language without defensiveness, be prepared to apologise for unintentional offence and take the opportunity to reconsider our language, the implications behind it and the impact it can have on others. Free expression ends at the point where it becomes an act of oppression to another.

6. Verbal Harassment, sexual or otherwise.
This includes making unsolicited and inappropriately personal remarks (complimentary or otherwise) about somebody’s appearance or other personal attributes, or making repeated personal requests of them, sexual or otherwise, which have been previously refused, ignored or not met with enthusiasm.
This does not mean: This isn’t a ban on developing sexual relationships or flirting. However, a social centre is not a singles club, and persistently using the space to initiate flirtations is not appropriate, and can be objectifying and demeaning to other users of the space. Develop personal relationships at appropriate times and places, where nobody is likely to feel trapped, coerced, isolated or embarrassed, and make sure anybody you are flirting with has ample opportunity to exit the situation or end the flirtation at any time. It bears repeating: always treat the absence of enthusiastic reciprocation as an unequivocal “no” with immediate effect.

7. Verbal abuse in writing. The same issues often come up in written communications, whether on mailing lists, forums and social networks or personal e-mails and text messages. It can be easier to both misunderstand written communication and to cross boundaries in terms of abusive language, since the things that would normally hold us back in a face-to-face confrontation (e.g. social unease, immediate negative response and awareness of the other party’s distress) are not as pronounced in this medium. The medium also has advantages for debate – many people find it easier to express themselves clearly and coherently in writing, to think their points through and to find the confidence to put their words into a public forum. But the same rules should apply in terms of avoiding personal insult, oppressive language and harassment, and for the same reasons.
This does not mean: That you can’t discuss political issues or dispute things that people have said by e-mail. However, always try to always keep it civil, and if you feel that you are being antagonised, suggest a different format for the discussion (e.g. private correspondence or a meeting). Avoid sending e-mails or messages while you feel upset or angry. Wait until you feel calm and read over your response, thinking of every phrase you have used in terms of the way you would feel to see it applied to yourself or your friends. Always address the points that you disagree with, rather than the person who has made them (or the kind of person who you believe makes such points). Don’t assume that you know somebody else’s opinions or motives beyond those that they have expressed unambiguously. You can only argue with what somebody has said, not what they might have been thinking. Argue with a view to developing everybody’s ideas, including your own, rather than attempting to defeat the opposing view or force a retraction. There are no individual winners or losers, only productive discussions and destructive ones. People very rarely back down from an opinion once they have expressed it publicly in writing. Accept that, even when you do persuade somebody to change their mind, they probably won’t admit it publicly, and you may never know about it.

Applying the Safer Spaces Policy

This section explains how to use the safer spaces policy.

What are our “spaces”? Where does this apply?
This policy should be considered to apply wherever members of the Social Centre collective meet together, be it at the social centre itself or in another space. It applies to both meetings and social events. It also applies to our online spaces: the mailing lists, Facebook pages and even our private communications with other members of the collective. It is not OK for us to abuse one another just because it’s a personal e-mail rather than the mailing list, or a party rather than a meeting.

Who does this apply to?
This applies to everybody who uses the social centre: collective members, their friends and guests, visitors and attendees. Some of the behaviours listed shouldn’t be considered acceptable by a member of the collective (or anybody else) at any time, to anybody, e.g. sexual assault, or sexually or racially charged verbal abuse. This behaviour makes the space around the person displaying it unsafe for everybody and reinforces an oppressive culture, even if the behaviour is aimed at people with whom we are in direct confrontation, such as the police or members of fascist organisations.

How do I enact the policy?
Contact a member of the Safer Spaces team on to begin a process to deal with a behaviour you have experienced. The processes are outlined in our Conflict Resolution and Survivor-led Processes document.
You will be offered anonymity and confidentiality for all complaints, and given the opportunity to nominate trusted members of the collective to mediate for you in any process that follows (though you are also welcome to speak for yourself directly if you prefer).
Complaints involving physical violence, rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment will be dealt with through a survivor-led process, and need not involve any members of the collective who the survivor(s) have not nominated. Anybody who has been named as a perpetrator of these or other violent and serious abuses will be asked not to enter the social centre or post to its lists while the process is ongoing.
Complaints not involving violence will be dealt with through the Conflict Resolution procedure, and both/all parties will be encouraged to communicate their concerns in constructive ways – with mediation, if required – with a view to restoring the ability to work together effectively in a space safe for all concerned.

Background to the policy

This section outlines what the policy is for.

What are safer spaces and why do we need them?

A safe (or safer) space is somewhere where people can feel that they’re not likely to face violence, harassment, intimidation or bullying. It is not about having to adhere to a dominant ideology, but it is about not tolerating the use of violence, harassment or intimidation, even in the name of “free expression” or “open debate”. Safer spaces are not about trying to forbid or suppress conflict, they are concerned with allowing it to happen constructively, while ensuring that it doesn’t lead to people getting hurt, marginalised or silenced.

When we organise non-hierarchically, we’re working in an environment that we haven’t been socialised for, and we need to think about what that means for the ways in which we control our own behaviour or influence each other’s. We live in a society that imposes limits on conflict from above, allowing only state sanctioned violence and characterising as aggression only resistance to state laws. Capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, disablism and a multitude of other interacting systems of oppression are all a part of the world we live in. We’ve been shaped by these systems, and our conscious rejection of them is not enough to make them disappear from either our organisations or our own attitudes. We need safer spaces, not because we think that we can build a little slice of utopia free from oppression and hierarchy, but because we know that we can’t, and so we need ways of recognising and dealing with those oppressions when we find ourselves facing them from friends and comrades.

Since we reject state laws, we need to set our own benchmarks for reasonable behaviour and for dealing with unreasonable behaviour. The safer spaces policy and the conflict resolution/disassociation procedure are our means for doing this. The safer spaces policy is a set of definitions of behaviours that should be avoided and that, if they occur, may require the use of the conflict resolution and survivor-led processes. These are sets of guidelines agreed upon as a means for dealing with situations that have made the space in which we organise unsafe.

But don’t we already know what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour? Can’t we just be sensible?

In reality, once a conflict is underway it is difficult for anybody involved to talk about the behaviours displayed in isolation from the people who displayed them. We end up defending or attacking individuals rather than talking about why an action was, in itself, right or wrong. A pre-agreed set of definitions allows us to look at our conflicts a little more objectively.

When somebody is angry, they tend to feel justified in whatever they’re doing – that’s one of the side effects of anger. Another is that people witnessing it often feel intimidated. It is easy to take a reasonable criticism as a personal slight if there is no pre-existing policy to justify the criticism. It is also easy to be intimidated out of making a necessary challenge to somebody’s behaviour without some pre-existing objective policy to justify your concerns.

These guidelines are not designed to prevent disagreements, shut down normal argument or any kind of constructive verbal confrontation, but to discourage situations in which people are intimidated out of such discussions.

The point of naming these behaviours isn’t that anybody who displays them in any way at any time can be instantly banned; the conflict resolution and survivor-led processes should make sure that responses to conflicts are proportionate. We name these behaviours in the Safer Spaces policy so that we have an agreement on what we can feel justified in challenging, so that anybody challenging these behaviours doesn’t have to feel alone or risk dismissal of their concerns, and so that those who might be tempted to use these behaviours as a shortcut to making their point will think twice about the possible negative consequences.

This does not mean that any behaviour not specifically covered by this policy cannot be challenged. If a behaviour is problematic, it should be dealt with through the same procedures as a breach of this policy, and if we are all agreed that the behaviour is problematic we should expand the policy to include it.


Women as Creative Agents for Change; Val Walsh

International Women’s Day, Liverpool 2013:

Women as creative agents for change.[1]


Val Walsh[2]


Each year at this time, we take stock:

  • we register issues (continuing and/or new) in women’s lives
  • identify obstacles to women’s dignity, equality and progress
  • we highlight and publicise campaigns
  • celebrate achievements and progress
  • take pleasure in women’s existence and company
  • and acknowledge unfinished business.

We take in the changing context (locally, nationally, internationally) of women’s lives and feminist activism; the impact of our efforts to improve women’s life chances and opportunities; as well as public, political and media attention and attitudes.

  • We continue to draw attention to issues of safety, security, opportunity and risk (at home, on the street, in the workplace and in war zones).
  • We document resistance, misrepresentation, distortion and denial with regard to women’s lives, and the impact of gender power relations and gender issues for women’s health and wellbeing; for women’s empowerment and self-determination; for recognition and reward in the public domain, via economic equality and social justice.
  • We track the unsatisfactory status of women in societies, including our own.

The feminist agenda, regarding what is missing, what is wrong and what women want to see changed, can seem like a never-ending, unchanging ‘to do’ list from one year to the next, accompanied by the sense that gender issues, gender inequalities, even Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), have become the normalized, invisible backdrop to everyday lives and politics. So prevalent, so widespread, so embedded within corporate, consumer and political culture and practices, including ‘entertainment’ and ‘comedy’, that their ‘volume’ has become turned down to a whisper: they have almost lost their shock value, lost their power to disturb and outrage, even girls and women themselves.


2012 disrupted this ‘more-of-the-same’ scenario.

Last summer, following a local women’s meeting at the Social Centre about sexism in activism, I found myself reflecting on this issue and tracking the media evidence of misogyny across society over a period of c10 weeks from the end of June. There was no lack of grim evidence, on almost a daily basis. This process culminated in my writing two linked essays.[3]


And then the Saville scandal broke, and took everyone’s breath away. Suddenly, 2012 looked like a breakthrough, as the media was forced to expose a period of sexual abuse and violation that covered the whole of recent history in the UK: from the 1960s to the present (which is still unfolding as criminal investigations continue and arrests are made).


These revelations confirmed the role of institutionalised misogyny and sexism as apparently inherent to hetero-patriarchal masculinity and normative gendered relations: perpetrators and powerful authority figures (those running institutions and organisations) shared a set of values and attitudes that allowed vulnerable children and women, variously corralled within those institutions (the NHS, the BBC, secure residential units), to be sexually abused and exploited, in silence, then ignored and discarded.


The culture of these organisations is at last open to scrutiny, not just the repellent behavior of individual men (mainly white heterosexual men in positions of authority and power). Within these misogynist organisational environments, victims were fodder for celebrity male egos, and those ‘chiefs’ and ‘celebrities’ thought they were fireproof, untouchable. And for too long they were, despite women’s testimony over the years: bearing witness by speaking up; and the activism, research, writing and theory of feminists since the 1970s.

We were too often ridiculed and demonized; accused of being ‘humourless’, ‘ugly’, ‘man-hating lesbians’. But we should be proud of our achievements during these years nonetheless, for these efforts, our knowledge production and campaigning, have had an impact, have changed society and its practices (just not enough). The evidence is now in and irrefutable, and provides society with the motivation and political will to make changes. Experienced and committed feminists are everywhere, and have been setting up organisations and projects to support and improve women’s life chances over many years (usually on a shoestring). There is no going back.


A feminist turning of the tide.

Since the Saville case broke, silence and denial are being exposed and overtaken by the collective voices of victims of historical Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). And every individual voice empowers another woman to speak out, thereby building up the picture of hidden atrocities, and the power wielded by these men within the settings that allowed them to flourish, dominate and abuse, without fear or challenge.


The latest examples of this culture of ‘acceptable sexism’ and gendered dominance are the number of women Lib Dems who have come forward with charges of inappropriate sexual behavior by the Lib Dem’s former Chief Executive, Lord Rennard, allegations that conjure a pattern of behavior, occurring over a number of years, which was not previously investigated by the Party. The child abuse claims alleging the serial abuse of boys from the 1970s by the Lib Dem MP, Cyril Smith, similarly demonstrate reluctance/refusal by Lib Dem leaders (including at least one senior woman) to investigate sexual predators and perpetrators within their own ranks. Preserving Party decorum and the reputation of the rich and powerful within the organisation kicked victims’ complaints into the long grass, where victims were expected to lie low; to put up and shut up: forever.


The avalanche of accusations and evidence over the last few months bears out feminist critique of the public domain (by both men and women) since the 1970s, and provides an opportunity at last for a coherent and determined strategy to change the status quo and to dismantle organisational values and cultures that have for too long effectively sanctioned VAWG.


The issues of complicity and cover-up, the role of cultural and organisational power (intimidation, coercion, male dominance, bullying and fear as organisational tools) are now out in the open. The complicity of powerful men (for example, within the BBC, the NHS, the Catholic Church), and vulnerable women (for example, Saville’s mother, other family members, and women staff in Saville’s chosen sites of abuse) are now on record.  And it becomes clear that their complicity with predators and perpetrators has been shaped and condoned by a wider misogynist culture, society itself. This body of evidence widens the debate beyond individuals and individual organisations, providing a basis for understanding and taking action to change these ‘normal’ gendered power relations and practices.


Internalising this reality, the values and behaviours that demean, intimidate, disadvantage, damage and destroy girls and women, has been variously part of every girl and woman’s upbringing, no matter what our age or background. Going public about these issues was always hard, nerve-racking, even taboo: a high risk move that could lose you your job or position, and/or your reputation; as well as court the censure of other, non feminist women. Not forgetting that a misogynist, patriarchal, heterosexist society trains us as girls and women to discipline and attack each other, and to compete for heterosexual men’s attentions and approval. We forge our friendships, love and political alliances across and in spite of these coercive and destructive pressures.


Next steps.

Now there is the opportunity for a better informed, more emboldened feminist conversation to develop amongst women, and between women, men and society’s institutions and organisations. For men have also been disciplined and damaged by these coercive practices, and some men have been changed during these years through their contact with feminist values and critique; and feminists! For example, mothers, colleagues, friends, co-activists.


I suggest that the events and evidence of these few short months are game-changers. They provide a springboard for us to work together as women, across our differences, together with feminist-inspired men, to make sure the tide does not turn back, and that misogyny and heterosexism at last get named and shamed as at the core of women’s disadvantage in society and as obstacles to humane relations between women and men, boys and girls, whatever our sexual preference.


We must make sure that all those historical victims did not suffer in silence in vain. It is up to us, as survivors, to secure a legacy of gender-based social and political change across society, including our city, Liverpool. Together we can do this.                                                                                                          











[1] This is the transcript of a speech delivered at The Black-E, Liverpool (09 03 2013) after the IWD march through the city centre.

[2] Val Walsh is an educationist and study coach; a writer, journalist and poet; and a member of Merseyside Women’s Movement, the Liverpool Women’s Network, Liverpool Friends of the Earth and Liverpool’s Keep Our NHS Public campaign. From 2006-2011, she was Chair of the Duncan Society, Liverpool’s public health and wellbeing debating society.

[3] ‘Sexism and activism: what’s the problem?’ and ‘Thinking through and beyond “sexism”: reflections on the challenge for the “Left” (and willing others)’ [10 10 2012].

Sonia Metralia from Greece on how women are affected by Austerity


The feminist tour which took place recently in a dozen towns and cities in France enabled women from Portugal, Spain, Greece, Britain, Hungary and France to outline an initial overview of the human damage caused by creditors who stand in the way of human rights, spreading humanitarian crisis and chaos throughout Europe. The evidence of these women represents an alarm call, warning us of what we can all soon expect. Below is the text of Sonia Mitralia’s contribution, translated from French into English by Vivien Walsh.

The only hope:

Active solidarity and resistance of all women together!

By Sonia Metralia, member of the Women’s Initiative Against Debt and Austerity Measures, Greece, Greek Committee against Debt; and the International Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt.

In Greece, we women are suffering the effects of an unprecedented and historic decline in our rights and our daily lives.

And all of a sudden we have something that sums up this daily life in Greece in the days of the Troika[1]: extreme insecurity and destitution, repression and dependency, violence, exclusion from healthcare and …. despair!

Despair because the Troika and their local lackeys sadistically persist, over and over again, with their catastrophic and unproductive policy which has already demolished the Welfare State in less than three years, which has blown apart the economy and which has brought about the recession and mass unemployment.

The statistics on debt are stark: public debt was $299 bn in 2009, or 129.3% of Gross Domestic Product, before the agreement with the Troika. According to the figures, in the year 2011 it went above $368 bn or 169% of GDP, and according to some calculations it could go above 200% in 2020.

How can we avoid despair when the overwhelming majority of the population, both men and women, are suffering the disastrous effects of these policies, which are not reducing the debt but are pushing us further and further, further and further into humanitarian crisis and chaos, and all for ….. nothing!


The life of women in a Greece ruled by the Troika.

First of all the right to work has collapsed. The long arm of national debt has reversed the historical trend, dating back to the 1980s, of a continued improvement in women’s place in the labour market. From now on, it will not be a temporary but an historic decline. Before the crisis, women’s unemployment had risen to 12%; from now on it will be rising officially to 29-30%. And for young women of 15-24, it has reached 61% … a real catastrophe for them, faced with the realisation that they have no future! From now on there will be vastly more people (above all women) who are inactive than active in the labour market. And a third of the women who work are unpaid. In supermarkets, sales staff are often paid in kind.

As for the right to choose motherhood freely, or to decide not to have children : it is a dead letter. What an irony of history! We have fought for 40 years against being forced into having children, but now they are preventing us from having them if we want to ….

Poverty, destitution and insecurity have already brought about a 15% drop in births. Three million Greeks without health insurance have to pay for private and commercialised health care from now on.  

For example , maternity care has not been free for a long time, but now it is very, very expensive: €800 for a normal delivery and €1600 for a caesarean.

Here is what the Greek Doctors’ Association – which is quite conservative – said about this in a recent statement: “Every day there is the drama of pregnant women arriving for caesareans, which they cannot have because they cannot pay.” “So then women have to give birth in the street, running the risk of dying or giving birth to babies with disabilities”.

Furthermore, even those who can pay “give birth in certain hospitals without a gynaecologist present, because there are not enough staff due to budget cuts”!…


The holdup of the century!

But there is worse than that. The whole Greek welfare state has been well and truly destroyed. The result is that all public services previously provided by the state, from nurseries to old people’s homes, as well as medical care, are now the responsibility of ….. women in the home! And all for free, without even the recognition that this is unpaid work. Work of a truly astronomic value, which we could quite reasonably call the holdup of the century!

The enormous sum of money thus saved by this typically neo-liberal operation goes directly into paying off the debt. Why? Because, according to neo-liberal dogma, the absolute first priority has to be the satisfaction of creditors and bankers, and not the basic needs of the citizens!

Have you ever heard any of this discussed anywhere ? No, no-one has bothered to mention this colossal heist of hundreds of billions of Euros.

So the fact is that the primary or main victims of this operation, that is, we the women, are single-handedly able to speak, denounce and above all mobilise and fight against this daylight robbery. For it is not just a question of more and more unpaid work for us, but also and above all it is about a generalised attack on the rights we have won over the previous 40 years of struggle.

But there is more. Such a privatisation of public services made possible by the unpaid labour of women, has to be justified ideologically for it to be accepted. That is why women have to be presented as “naturally” dedicated to their families, to their husbands and children, and to their domestic work in the home.

Why? Because, they say, that is their “mission” or “role in life”; the role of women is to be the servants of others, and in this case, to be the substitute for the soon-to-be completely dismantled welfare state.

You know very well the name of this ideological packaging, this ideological pretext: its name is patriarchy, the worst kind of good old patriarchy which now goes hand in hand with the most recent and at the same time most barbaric expression of neo-liberal capitalism…..

This marriage of capitalism and patriarchy translates into something concrete: that we have just one choice, which is to serve! To serve, take care of, feed, and clean for our kids, and old people, and for sons, brothers, and husbands on the dole: all those who are no longer able to have their own homes but have to come together again in the same house.

But is this simply a question of “coming back home”? Of a return to the fifties, before the achievements of feminism, to a model of the family based on the couple where the man works in the factory and the woman in the home? We cannot exclude the possibility that the crash, with a society of the unemployed who have no role in society, in fact where there is no civil society, is giving rise to a deterioration of the family to an even more archaic form of communal life, or a kind of feudal system based on obligation and tribute, where individual rights no longer exist at all for us.

What is this waste of human life about?

Why is all this happening? Because money has to be prioritised to go automatically to pay the creditors!

But, you are going to ask, why? What is the logic of obeying these policies which spread wretchedness and destroy a whole society? Why this waste of human life? 

Our response is categorical: because we are no longer allowed to prioritise meeting the needs of citizens, but instead have to meet those of the creditors and bankers!

Yes, it was in February 2012 that the Euro group[2], meaning those who actually rule Europe, imposed on Greece not only that it write into its Constitution the absolute priority of paying off the debt from the bail-out; but also the astounding measure of establishing a blocked bank account in Luxembourg where the so-called “aid” from Europe to Greece would be deposited….. that Greece cannot touch.

This constitutes a real counter-revolution in global interests. Why? Because from time immemorial up to this fateful February 2012, international law had been based on the inviolable principle of the “State of Necessity” or state of emergency which requires governments to give priority to meeting the fundamental needs of their citizens, even if this runs counter to their obligations to investors. In other words, priority should go to health, education, basic benefits for those in poverty, etc. What Europe has imposed on Greece is not just Greece’s problem: it concerns everyone!

Why? Because it constitutes a precedent that aims to destroy the principle of the “State of Necessity” or state of emergency[3], and its replacement by the principle that creditors take priority, no matter what.

It is as though they are cynically saying that we can die for all they care, because the only thing that concerns them is to serve the interests of the creditors and nothing else.

And what about the future of democracy in Greece and in Europe?

However, the monstrous impoverishment of the Greek people is not the only result of these policies. In reality they are also in the process of killing off the future of democracy in Greece and in Europe. They are giving birth to a world of blind violence, a world without rules, a jungle where the worst is possible. This is a world in which the ground is being prepared for the extreme right and fascists to launch their attacks on our freedoms, against national and sexual minorities, and to promote their hatred of women and attacks on women’s rights.



Will Greece also become the laboratory in which totalitarian violence is developed and refined?  Not only are we living a sort of life of acclimatisation to violence and indifference to human life, but this is also a political situation which is becoming more and more violent in the sense that victories such as the banning of torture by the state, which is becoming routine, are being called into question.

To win the election in May, several days before it took place, two social democratic ministers (deplorably famous for the savage repression of the demonstrations against the Troika and the dismantling of the health service) staged the despicable spectacle of a virtual public lynching of HIV positive prostitutes (who they thought were foreigners). By putting their photos on the internet and on television, the authorities called on the population to inform on them to have them arrested as women who “represented a health time-bomb”, who were “polluting society with infectious diseases” and killing Greek fathers with AIDS. These measures were voted through by the Greek parliament, and public opinion at the same time became a bit more used to racist and sexist hatred.

On the other hand, a member of parliament from the neo-nazi party “Golden Dawn” attacked two left-wing women members of parliament in the TV studio during the live broadcast of a programme during the election period last spring. This act of violence, instead of arousing indignation and disapproval, on the contrary sparked off a huge wave of popular sympathy which contributed to the electoral success of the “Golden Dawn”, now the third most important party according to all the polls. Describing immigrants as subhuman during a parliamentary debate, these neo-nazis have already been responsible for several assassinations of immigrants, as well as murderous attacks on gypsies, on gays, on left-wing militants, and on national minorities! And obviously, since they advocate restricting access to social services and rights (crèches, food, medical care, solidarity) to Greeks, “Golden Dawn” periodically attacks crèches or even hospitals with the declared objective of throwing out “foreigners” to make room for Greeks!

What can we do before it is too late? How can we resist the curse of neoliberalism and the rise of fascism and totalitarianism? How can we confront the blackmail of debt and nightmare austerity measures? How can we defend ourselves against violence?

First of all, we urgently need not to remain on our own. We need help, active solidarity from the social movements and women’s and feminist  organisations of Europe. Each and every one of us in our respective countries must fight against the same anti-freedom austerity policies developed and applied by the same enemies of us all.

To sum up, all of us must resist together, across national borders.

Yes, we must say it loud and clear : we must build a mass movement of women in Europe against both austerity and the unlawful debt which is the root of our problems.

Sonia Metralia, member of Women’s Initiative Against Debt and Austerity Measures, Greece, Greek Committee against Debt; and the International Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt.


[1]  (Translator’s note) A term used in the Greek financial press to mean the three-way partnership of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank which together bailed Greece out of the debt crisis.

[2] (Translator’s note) The Euro group are the finance ministers of the euro zone, an informal group with no official name (but colloquially called the Euro group) which meets monthly and has political control over the euro currency and related aspects of the EU’s monetary union, such as the Stability and Growth Pact. It meets the day before the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin) of the Council of the European Union. It was established at the request of France as a policy co-ordination and consultation forum on euro zone matters.


[3] (translator’s note) in which a government is released from its normal obligations in the interests of the basic survival of the population or its fundamental infrastructure. See for example, Sergey Ripinsky, “State of Necessity: Effect on Compensation”, 15 October 2007.,_state_of_necessity_-_effect_on_compensation_(15_oct_07).pdf  seen 28.01.13


IWD greetings from pakistan Home Based Women Workers Federation


“Happy working women struggle day to all comrades. This day is identified and recalls the courageous women who struggle for just rights and want better and progressive society for all.


As we all know that women’s bravery actions were easily excluded from the history and promoting such things/ideology which show the lower status of women in the society. That literature and things confine and restricted women at home in the name of religion, cultural and custom especially in south Asia. In feudal society, no respect given more than salve to them and in capitalist society women becomes commodity. capitalist society burden on women has been also increased so the violence!


We are living in that kind of society where women face metal, physical and sexual harassment every day on their home and work place just because of that ideology which deep rooted in our society since lone by the religious and capitalists. These ideologies suffocate and paralyze whole society especially the third world.


Our issues are same so the solution is! For which we have to work harder not just for our identity and status but for other women and girls of new generation. This is our dutyOur issues are same so the solution is! For which we have to work harder not just for our identity and status but for other women and girls of new generation. This is our duty to keep our voice raise and fight against the ideology of private properly, together, which leads to our complete and actual emancipation


Long live working women struggle and

Long live workers’ unity


Zerha Khan

General Secretary

Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF)”

Stand up for Education; a Clarion call

The National Union of Teachers and the NAS/UWT have announced a regional one day strike in the North West of England on June 27th. This is the start (albeit a slow start) of a national campaign. The two unions working together is a big step forward
Everyone associated, in any way, with education must get behind this action, with heart and soul. A massive popular campaign can protect and defend free, equitable state education for all. Nothing less will do
The issues behind this strike are of breath taking importance to every person involved, in any way, with state education. Schools are important to the daily life, to the welfare, learning and happiness of children. Not just our own children, all the children, because every child matters. Overwhelmingly, parents surveyed in March 2013 by You Gov, support teachers. Yet this government is intent on changing our schools for their own ideological and money making purposes.

Teacher know all too well the problems facing unemployed and low paid families because we meet them every day and spend our working hours with the children. One in five children in poverty now; many more heading that way, as the cuts hurt. We see the hungry children, we see the stress and anxiety, and many of our members share the problems themselves. We ask for solidarity from the whole community in the fight for education
What do we want? What is our alternative to Michael Gove?

A good school for every child where they live
Free education for all from 2 to 23
Pre-school provision that meets all the developmental needs of the child
A curriculum and assessment of children, that is rigorous, developmental and fair
The re instatement of the Building Schools for the Future programme
Free nutritious food for all children in school
A teaching profession that is well paid and that has high professional standards.
The opportunity to retire on a decent pension, saved up for during our working lives.
Respect, decent wages and professional development for the para-educational workers (like teaching assistants) in all our schools. Work towards one union for all education workers.
Provision for all pupils to meet individual needs
A democratic voice for the community once more in the running of local schools.
This is what the education system for the sixth richest country in the world should look like.
Yes Britain can afford it.

What’s going on, to make teachers so angry? It is worth teasing out the threads, many though there are of them. Don’t be surprised if you are unfamiliar with some of the issues. There are links to help you follow up parts that interest you.
The government and the press use very different language to obfuscate and blur the issues when they make statements – this is the era of New Speak in education. Teachers are criticised and blamed, day in day out.

There are 12 aspects of education that have been cut, privatised or maliciously meddled with. They are not in order of importance, but in an attempt at a logical order. (For teachers, number 6, performance related pay is of fundamental importance)
1. Reducing the role of the elected Local Authority
Since 1944 there has been compulsory, free, state education available to every child in the UK. The school system, from 1944 was administered by local education authorities under democratic control in each area. Councillors, elected locally, made local policy within the national legal frame work. The Local Authority dealt with central services like special needs, personnel, insurance, building services. They also provided support for the teaching of different subjects and helped with the professional development of staff.
The money for these central services has been significantly reduced so that very little indeed is left. The cuts in our area, Cheshire West, have left a service which cannot function even to provide for the tiniest children with special needs. The powers of the Local Authority have been reduced; the money they have to spend has been dramatically reduced by greater delegation of money to schools and by cuts from central government
2. Breaking up and fragmenting the national network of schools.
The state network of secondary schools has been broken up into academies and free schools, with local authority secondary schools being a minority of all schools, albeit a significant minority.
Primary schools have more Local Authority schools left, but the pressure is on to make them convert or be forced into academy status, using spurious data and inspections to do so (more of how Ofsted is used in this below). The next 12 months will see the movement to academise primary schools increase.
Free schools have been set up which are beyond the control of the Local Authority. They can be opened in places where there is a surplus of school places, and which do not have to employ qualified teachers nor follow the national curriculum. In Chester, they are set up by organisations like the University of Chester, dependent on state funding, which should be part of the education community but which are helping break up the state system. Private schools struggling with fees in this long recession have been given state funding to continue, without charging fees but still controlling their own intake. Fragmenting the system prepares it for privatisation and using schools for private profit, with the state still paying the bill It’s worth fighting the process of turning a school into an academy. Watch this inspiring film about academies and the struggle to keep socially owned locally and democratically controlled schools–tory-plan-for-firms-to-run-schools-for-profit-8445066.

3. Qualified teachers; the threat to qualified teacher status.
Since 1944 the level of education required for teachers has increased from a one year post 18 course, to a three year course, to degree, then degree plus Post Graduate Certificate of Education, and there are moves towards expecting young teachers to complete a master’s degree in their early years of teaching. A highly trained workforce produces well developed, thinking, young people. The government has removed the requirement for qualified teacher status (QTS) in academies and free schools. One free school is headed by woman who has never taught.

4. The future of the Job as a school teacher? Proper job or hourly rates?
This whole structure is now under real and present threat. Education, outside of school teaching, has the second most casualised workforces in the UK. This even in the most highly educated sectors of our youth.
Most school teachers though, still have permanent contracts and some security of employment. This is under threat. There are in the press and media day by day, denigrations of teachers by the government. This, coupled with terrible workloads is having a bad effect; teachers are becoming ill with stress. The use of anti-depressants is becoming common, as a way of coping. The long hours culture wears down health and well-being, with paperwork done long after the children have left school and then at home, when teacher’s own children are in bed. This is a pattern for people working with children all day and who need to be alert, fresh and inspiring. Teachers deliver material, quietly adjust the material for the children, teach and assess children, on the go, all day.
What time, what energy, is left for the classroom delivery and the nurture of our pupils?
Supply teachers Already when teachers are off ill their lessons are covered by unqualified Cover Supervisors, paid significantly less than teachers. It should be that this is only for a few days but even longer absences are sometimes covered in this way. Supply teachers now find it notoriously difficult to get work. When they do get work through a private for profit agency, a big chunk of what the school pays for the teacher/cover supervisor goes to the agency (e.g. £160 per day to the Agency, £110 to the teacher giving the agency £50 of taxpayer money for finding the teacher)
Pre-schools are now are required to have just one graduate employed in the provision; other employees have a range of lower qualifications and much, much lower pay and status. Teachers are employed only rarely in the dominantly privatised sector, a sector arguably more important than university.
FE and sixth form. The practice of casual employment and hourly rate employment is rife in these sectors.

5. Unfair and ineffective testing that fails small children.

Another major problem is testing of tiny children in the phonics test and the slightly newer SPAG (spelling and grammar)
See for an alternative to this nonsense.

There is still a law that says the secretary of State cannot tell us how to teach – but he can tell us how we must test, and how our schools’ results, and league table positions and even our appraisal and thereby pay, can be linked to it.
Testing like this is bad for children, bad for teaching and bad for parents.
Testing is not assessment; of course teachers should check which sounds pupils know and can use and adjust teaching accordingly, but not through formal testing. When such testing is linked to teachers pay and security of employment it is bad for the day to day running of schools.
Schools are important to the daily life, welfare, learning, and happiness of all our children.
6. Performance related pay.
For years teachers have been subject to performance management. This is nothing new. To progress onto the upper pay scale teachers have to go through a further assessment called “threshold”. In the assessment at the end of year assessment even now your immediate line manager has to say if you should progress; but what is now proposed is something significantly worse.
Progression up the incremental pay scale is no longer automatic. Your pay level cannot be moved from school to school automatically
Decent heads and governors will not want to break the national system. The damage to staff morale and staff cohesion will be painful, the damage to staff incomes even more so. If a teacher fails, for example, to progress from one increment to two increments the teacher loses £1707 in the first year and for the next 8 years. That is £ 14,656 over your time on the incremental scales from losing one increment. Lose two and double that.
The head could decide to give you half an increment! Favoured teachers could get 2 increments… heads have been given a 94 page document on how to administer this new scheme
School by school/local authority/ Academy chain, local agreements can and should be reached by local negotiations but the weight of government policy will be to break this
“Inspectors will evaluate the robustness of performance management within the school. This will include looking at anonymised information of the outcomes of the most recent performance management of all teachers and considering whether there is an appropriate correlation between the quality of teaching and the salary progression of the school’s teachers;”
Teachers need the get active in the union to defend their pay structures and job security. Ordinary teachers are the cavalry riding to the rescue; none else can do this for us
Full details on teachers’ pay on
This is a summary
Main Pay Scale
£ Per year.
M1 21,588
M2 23,295
M3 25,168
M4 27,104
M5 29,240
M6 31,552

Upper Pay Scale
U1 34,181
U2 35,447
U3 36,756
Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) Payments
TLR 2 Band Minimum 2,535 Maximum 6,197
TLR 1 Band Minimum 7,323 Maximum 12,393

(Teachers’ pay is below average for graduate professions on entry but gets better as the teacher becomes more experienced and meets various criteria. Teacher’s pay on the main scale is the same in each school. Teachers kept their pay level on the main scale as they move to new jobs. Promotion was through the TLR system.)

7. GCSE Scandal
Last summer (2012) year 11 pupils took an exam and achieved the level previously agreed as the C grade. The point at which a C grade was reached was then changed. The goal posts were moved. The pupils worked to the requested level then were denied the grade.
Future exams will follow that model of having a moveable grade boundary so too many children do not pass. The grade boundaries will be a moveable feast
Retreat on EBAC. The Government announced it was introducing the EBac but then retreated. Never the less there is a real threat to subjects like design technology, art and Drama, (a sick joke at NUT conference was “How do you know he is a drama teacher? He is the one who got the sack”
8. New National Curriculum
Concern about this was the second priority motion at NUT conference. To a non-teacher this seems obscure. To a teacher it is deciding the content of what they teach their pupils, their everyday professional activity.
There are still a few days left to object. Make sure your response starts with “I object to” or “I oppose”, if you start with “There are some good things in the NC but “it is registered as a favourable response.
It will expect us to teach a fact based curriculum, to classify those children not developmentally ready for such work as failures. We know what that does to a child. It will matter very quickly to caring parents as their children are hurt in this way.

The Guardian reports that (with my emphasis)

Under the planned new curriculum, in history, children are to be introduced to the concepts of “civilisation”, “nation” and “democracy” at the ages of six and seven. And in stipulations that some say verge on self-parody, key stage 1 pupils ( infants) are supposed to start grasping the influence of the Romantic poet Christina Rossetti and of the scientists Michael Faraday and William Harvey, while for key stage 2 (age seven-11), they must study “the heptarchy”.

In English, spelling lists imply that those aged six should have mastered words including “Tuesday” and “astronaut” and be aware of words where the “f” sound is spelt “ph”, such as “phonics” .
By age nine, they should be able to spell “spontaneous”, “scheme” and “antique”; and to understand the difference between “affect” and “effect”.
At age 11, they should have mastered the subjunctive.
In maths, pupils are to be expected to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions by the time they leave primary school, a requirement that does not feature in the current curriculum; to know up to their 12-times table by year 4 (currently, it is up to their 10-times tables by year 6); and to be able to do long division in primary school.
This system regards the children as empty vessels to be filled with facts like a computer that can be programmed. The developmental and emotional needs of children are denied.
Ofsted itself reported that in Finland a country we are often negatively compared with “much more importance is attached in Finland and Denmark to the way six-year-olds develop as people, rather than what they should know and be able to do”.

One hundred leading academics have condemned this new curriculum but their concerns, backed by years of research, have been dismissed by Gove
27 year old unqualified teacher Annaliese Briggs helped write it. Previously working in a think tank supporting this government, she is now a head teacher of an academy primary school (but does not propose to follow the National Curriculum herself!).

9. Every Child Matters
The third priority motion at conference again passed overwhelmingly was the motion on threats to ban some immigrant children from school; The NUT press statement says
“It is quite unacceptable for Ministers at the Department for Education to be considering banning children of immigrants deemed ‘illegal’ from schools.
The UK has obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which the Government must ensure we observe.
“The Government must give reassurances that it will not promote reactionary plans such as this. Even the knowledge that it is being discussed could lead to the victimisation of some of the most vulnerable people in society.
“The NUT is determined to support campaigns against racism and Islamaphobia. Our schools need to continue to be harmonious, inclusive and respectful of the backgrounds of all the children and young people attending them.”

10. New Speak in the education system
Satisfactory? When you get your blood pressure tested or you have a structural survey done on a house and you are told it’s satisfactory, what does it mean? Well Ofsted have changed the meaning. Now a school can’t get satisfactory in an Ofsted inspection. The Ofsted complain that too many schools were satisfactory for years. What? Then they demand all schools must be above average (!).
The head of Ofsted complained that too many children were below average! Did he know the meaning of the word?
Wiltshire, the head of Ofsted, is quoted as saying “A good head would never be loved by his or her staff”, he added: “If anyone says to you that ‘staff morale is at an all-time low’ you know you are doing something right.”
What language do they speak?
Ofsted is being used in a political way to intervene when schools object to academy status.

11. Pensions; 68 is well too late
The effect of extra contributions to the pension fund will kick in soon. The April pay packet will see an impact. The last on day national Strike saw significant gains. At least those teachers now in their 50s were saved from teaching till 68. We didn’t win enough but we did win time. The long term future of the scheme is till at risk if young teachers cannot afford to maintain their contributions.
Ask women in their 50s how their state pension is racing away down the years.
12. Special Educational Needs
Statements of children’s needs; (additional too and different from) other pupils are to go. The Code of Practice is to go. Integration that has been painstakingly worked towards for a lifetime is under threat. It is too new as yet to write it up effectively but the NUT locally and nationally will be campaigning to protect and enhance the work we do with Children with Special Educational Needs
13. Teacher and Education Unions
World wide Right wing Governments and their support organisations like the World Bank are trying to eradicate or tame teacher trade unions.
One of the UK Governments attempts is this; the delegation of funding to schools has been used to damage trade union structures.
The system set up over years is one where ordinary teachers (not officials) are locally elected to negotiate for and represent their members. These teachers are, by agreement with the employers, freed from a proportion of their teaching to do this vital work of representing teachers when they are under threat and negotiating local agreements. It’s normally negotiated annually so school timetables adjust and other teachers can be properly employed to pick up the designated time for the elected Division Secretary. It works. It is efficient and it is democratic. It used to be part of local Authority central services. The money to do this has been delegated to schools. Without effective local representation, school by school disputes will escalate, as conditions deteriorate and local strike action is likely to become much more common.
Every teacher should insist their school (be it secondary, primary, special or academy, subscribes to Facilities Time agreements (It costs the school about £30 per teacher)
So, the Fight Back starts in April 2013.
• Go to the rallies for teachers, parents and supporters to show their support for teachers and for equitable, well-funded, state education. Bring your family and friends Rally for education – pay rallies in April and May 2013
Rally against Government attacks on the education service and teachers. All teachers, parents and governors welcome. for nationwide venues
Association Venue Date Time & Speakers
Liverpool Holiday Inn Liverpool City Centre
Lime Street
L1 1NQ
27 April
2013 11am – 12.30pm
Christine Blower General Secretary NUT,
Patrick Roach Deputy General Secretary NASUWT
• Hold meetings in your school; inform your colleagues. Many are too busy to have realised. Use the power point being circulated. Involve every union in school. Recruit the non-members. Tell the local union that you have had or are having a meeting
• If your head/chair of governors tries to break from national agreements get the local union officers into school urgently. We will fight this school by school until the national agreement is once again recognised nationally
• Respond to the National Curriculum consultation
• Sound the alarm for education in Local Elections; make the voice of education heard.
• Organise for the strike in the North West on June 27th. Make it solid
• Demand National Strike Action; nor just one day.
Today’s teachers stand on the shoulders of giants; those teachers who fought for and won the education service we knew before this government. This generation of teachers and their allies can win it back, for teachers and all our children.